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Emerging talent gets Closer

Oliver Page and Lee Fitzjames, co-founders of Redmond Barry.
Redmond Barry is a new independent theatre company in Auckland, producing classic works with emer

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Redmond Barry is a new independent theatre company in Auckland, producing classic works with emerging talent.  Its debut work, Closer, opens this Tuesday at The Basement.

Renee Liang caught up with Oliver Page and Leigh Fitzjames, co-founders of the company.

Renee: Tell me a bit about your backgrounds

Oliver: I’m 21, and have been studying  English and Art History at Auckland Uni. I developed a passion for theatre at an early age, working both on stage, acting and behind the scenes.   From my early teens  I’ve had a desire to direct through exposure to such greats as Pinter, Mamet, Letts,  Shepard and Sam Mendes’ productions.  

Early last year I finally had an opportunity to actually direct - Stephen Jeffery’s’ The Libertine for Stage Two productions.  Being my first directing effort, working with a cast of fifteen struggling with lines laden with antique dialogue, I thought I bitten off far more than I could chew but in the end I found it an enormously satisfying experience.  In June I was back – directing David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago, a dream come true. That show really solidified my realization that I’d really found what I wanted to do with my life.

Leigh: I’m also 21, studying Arts and Commerce at the University of Auckland with 3 majors. I was singing in Chinese and English tongues- ‘Chinglish’ before I could walk or dance – so I have a fascination with multiculturalism and racism in the media. 

Starting Redmond Barry Theatre Company with Oliver is an extension of my interest in business and the ‘behind  the behind the’ scenes stuff of theatre. I’m working toward creating a portfolio of work which includes singing, dancing, acting, directing, writing, advertising and producing…recording an album of original music, landing dream roles of playing Evita, Velma Kelly and Sally Bowels in musicals and graduating! I have so many people in my life and I cannot help but fall in love with their lives. I guess that’s how I ended up in theatre, I observe so many subjects and impulsively compulsively imitate them.

Renee: When did you start collaborating?

Oliver: I’ve only really known Leigh for a little over a year, but I’ve admired her work with ‘Stage Two’ for a time before that. She wrote and directed a short play for the University’s 2009 season of ‘Stirfried Plays’ and after that I filled her name away under ‘People I’d love to work with’.

Late last year we were both involved in a student production of the musical Tommy, Leigh produced and I was mightily impressed with her deft ability to reign in a difficult production. I’d been developing my next directing project and felt it was time to move away from University theatre and go out on my own but to do this I needed a really capable producer. So once Tommy was over I immediately snatched her up, I saw a kindred spirit in Leigh and desperately wanted to work with her. Luckily she said yes.

Leigh: Luckily I was asked! Oliver’s name was sacred in the world of Uni theatre and film. It wasn’t until Stirfried Plays that I finally got to put a face to the name. It was not long after that I met him properly during Tommy rehearsals. He showed an unusually intense focus and was a thrill to work with.  We actually had to develop the idea of collaborating while I was in Europe and he was in Japan, our mutual enthusiasm meant we got work done regardless. I knew then that if we could get results on opposite sides of the world then it could be a very good partnership.

Renee: How did the idea of Redmond Barry come about?

Oliver: It simply came from a desire to get a group of like minded theatre enthusiasts together, to provide a place for young people who were aspiring towards careers in stage work to express themselves.

Renee: What's in the name?

Oliver: Redmond Barry is my favourite character from fiction. William Mackpace Thackeray wrote the novel The Life and Luck of Barry Lyndon Esq. and Stanley Kubrick adapted it into the film Barry Lyndon in 1975. Redmond is the young Irish peasant, a rogue who aspires to a great life of nobility. He takes off on a journey through the courts and parlours of 17th century Europe, a quest to better his standing in life. He eventually succeeds becoming the Lord Barry Lyndon. The name Redmond Barry represents youth and a hunger for greater things, which I thought was apt in naming the company.

Renee: How does Redmond Barry differ from other independent theatre companies in Auckland/NZ? Why do you think the time is right for such a company?

Oliver: In my experience there really isn’t much of an opportunity for young, relatively inexperienced people to work in professional or semi professional theatre around Auckland city. At least not in major production roles. Universities have drama clubs and there are the local community theatres that might provide that kind of chance but we wanted to provide an alternative.

We’re looking to establish an independent group where the learning can be done through experience, trial and error, a place for the young and hungry to take the reins of important pieces of drama and let their burgeoning talent run wild.

Leigh: 75% of our company are working full time on this project and a lot are doing it for free. There is no denying that there is a need for more groups like us. We are attracting young people who are positive and eager for work. They’re all very qualified and deserve to have ongoing work. We would like to facilitate opportunities for these people quite directly. One of the things we’re doing is being very transparent about our processes, alerting everyone to new information such as tickets sales, production details, marketing schemes etc so that everyone on board is really aware about exactly what is going on in the production. This fuels people to work together, support each other and means that they are in a position where they can discuss ideas and make suggestions.

I realise that these are the people who know that they are good, who work their butts off, but genuinely believe there is no hope for doing their job in a professional situation. So many people pull out of theatre in because they make choices based on whether they can pursue their work professionally, and the reality is that if that’s not an option other priorities such as finding ‘a real job’ get in the way and the theatre community loses.

We aim to find out exactly who these people are, give them a go working with professionals and under very strict standards and if we like them we will provide paid opportunities for them in upcoming shows.

Renee: Tell me more about the 'open call' philosophy.

Oliver: We’re all about providing opportunities, so anyone with enough enthusiasm and commitment is welcome on board, regardless of experience.

Leigh: Seriously, if you’re reading this and think you’ve got what it takes, we’re a phone call or email away.

Renee: Who are the main types of people you hope to attract to the company?

Oliver: Any and all irrepressibly creative people.  Whether they’ve spent years studying theatre at university, or have just always wanted to design costumes for a show, we’re willing to give them a place to explore their ambitions.

Leigh: We have had some extraordinarily talented people work with us with little to zero theatre experience. If I was so choosy with only employing theatre people then our work would be very tired and unoriginal. Good communication skills are essential, as we are very big on trust and exchanging ideas. We need people to come up with ideas and execute them, if they can only do one aspect of that it’s fine because it’s all crucial to making things better.

Renee: Why did you choose Closer as your first production?  Tell us a little more about the production.

Oliver: It’s a play I’ve always loved, really groundbreaking when it was first written in the late 90’s it still speaks more openly and honestly about the pain and joys of sex and relationships than many plays written today. I was interested in the challenge.

There are four characters, Anna, Larry, Dan and Alice, each on their own quest for love and fulfilment. It has twelve scenes in twelve different locations so the set had to be minimal, a largely bare stage, there’s a challenge in that, creating real space with only a few objects or items of furniture. It also means the play has to be that much more compelling emotionally to make up for the lack of any fancy florid set design, there’s no safety net. There’s such an emphasis on chemistry and the interplay between the four actors in Closer.

The play is a tangled web of emotions and each scene functions on a completely different level for each character.  A large part of the rehearsal period has been untangling that, discussing and discovering the layers and motivations of everyone in each scene, it’s unbelievably complex and certainly the most difficult play I’ve worked on.

Leigh: Four actors, delicious dialogue. The shrill honesty of the characters and the discussion of deception is totally palatable for any person who has surrendered to the demons of love. Sometimes the play genuinely hurts the viewer and the script continues to haunt me as I consider the truths in my life. I think this work can have a really great impact on both those who have worked on it as well as the audience. Not to mention that artistically there were so many opportunities, so many combinations of actors and costumes and settings which makes Closer an ideal play to work with for a first show.

Renee: What are your future plans for shows?

Oliver: At this point it’s all up in the air. We’re planning tentatively to work on either Tracey Lett’s ‘Bug’ or Neil LaBute’s ‘The Mercy Seat’ next with a view to pulling together a production of the Tom Waits/William Burroughs musical ‘The Black Rider’ at the end of the year.

Leigh: Yeah, those three works have been discussed a lot but nothing is yet finalised. One thing that is for certain is that Oliver and I are both intending on taking non producer/director roles for upcoming productions and we are currently considering who else could fill those roles.

Renee: Do you plan to do any NZ work?

Oliver: Absolutely. We’re open to anything at this point but there are certainly a few New Zealand pieces I’d love to work on.

Leigh: Eventually I would love to phase in some local writers who might like to write for us directly. Both Oliver and I are very passionate writers and once we can gauge with other like people we can take it from there. Having worked with Massive Theatre company (The Girl’s Show) I’ve also realised the power of devised work. Of course, script interpretation is still hilariously fun.

Renee: Will producing shows be the “core business” of the company, or will you also teach and mentor?

Oliver: Producing shows will be the core business and the hope is that we will grow together as a group, learning through the experience of working on plays like ‘Closer’.

Leigh: Producing goes hand in hand with teaching and mentoring as the group learn off each other in a practical context. I believe that there is no ideal prerequisite required for working on our productions, that we should welcome people with all sorts of training and experiences and not insist that they mould to ours. In saying this I’ve previously taken on roles in directing, choreographing, coaching basketball etc and I know I cannot resist passing on advice, often pushing the boundaries of a producer.

More information:

Closer by Patrick Marber
Produced by Redmond Barry Theatre Company

When: 16 - 20 February

Where: The Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

Call 0800 RED MAN for bookings, or to enquire about joining Redmond Barry, email redmondbarrytheatre@gmail.com

Written by

Renee Liang

15 Feb 2010

Renee is a writer who is exploring many ways of telling stories, including plays, short stories, poetry (which she also performs), and cross-genre collaborations with composers, musicians, sculptors and filmmakers.

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